- History of the GSD
- Roles of the GSD
- GSD Characteristics
- Grooming your GSD
- GSD Temperament
- Socialising your GSD
- German Shepherds & Kids
- Full Time Work & Your GSD
- Exercising your GSD
- Training your GSD
- German Shepherd Activities
- GSD Pet Suitability
- Healthy German Shepherds
- Healthy GSD Puppies
- German Shepherd Lifespan
- Is a GSD Right for you?
In this article we will be giving an honest, detailed review of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) breed. Looking at their characteristics, temperament, suitability as pets and the things you will need to provide for them as an owner.
They are enduringly popular as family pets, working guard dogs and as trained police dogs. They are also highly regarded in the show ring.
In recent years the German Shepherd has increasingly become a divided breed, between those bred for practical purposes and those bred to display certain physical characteristics in the show ring. We will be taking a closer look at these changes and the impact that they might be having on the dogs involved further on in this article.
The History of the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd, or GSD as he is often known, was originally bred for herding and guarding livestock in all weathers.
They can be traced back to the early 1890’s, when a Captain Max von Stephanitz decided to lead a group of people to try and breed the ultimate all-purpose herding dog.
Although his original intention was for this new line to be herding dogs, as the years passed and times changed his goals were transferred to working pastimes – namely the police and the military.
The Roles of the German Shepherd
They are easy to train and very active dogs too.
This makes them perfect for their many roles, including guide dog work, protection work, search and rescue, and police/military work.
German Shepherd Characteristics
The German Shepherd is a powerful and strong dog. He is described as being attentive, alert, resilient and tireless.
He is also very intelligent and highly trainable, as a working dog or as a family pet.
They are also very bold and confident when properly socialised.
In general your average German Shepherd will also be a fairly calm dog, although playful at times he will usually mature into a fairly level headed member of the family.
They are usually around 24 inches tall, with females being an average a little shorter and males slightly taller.
You can expect them to weigh somewhere in the region of 80 to 90 pounds.
They have a thick double coat in black, sable or bi-coloured, with a fawn or grey undercoat.
The Black German Shepherd
The solid black German Shepherd Dogs is becoming a very popular choice. We’ve even seen it described as though it were a different breed.
It isn’t though, and black is simply another color variety in this gorgeous breed
You may not see your German Shepherds final adult coat colour until he is fully grown, as the outer coat takes longer to develop. The outer coat will be thick, with hair varying from straight to wavy depending on their lines.
They should have a similar form to that of their wolf-like ancestors, however this is where some changes to the breed have crept in.
The Kennel Club state in the breed standard for the German Shepherd that “working ability never sacrificed for mere beauty’. However, there are some differences in the shape of a German Shepherd that have slowly become more evident in show lines over the last 50 years or so, namely the slant of their backs.
How do you groom a German Shepherd?
German Shepherds vary in coat length, but they all require grooming.
They are double coated and tend to shed profusely at least twice a year, as well as moulting quite excessively all year around.
You should groom your GSD with a brush at least three times a week, and will find that investing in a powerful vacuum cleaner will help to keep the shedding in the house to a minimum.
German Shepherd Temperament
The German Shepherds are a powerful and resilient breed. Known for being aloof with strangers, but strongly bonded to their families.
They are loyal and deeply affiliate as companions, often with strong guarding instincts.
It is important when you bring a German Shepherd puppy home to remember that these instincts will need to be properly managed as he grows.
Although GSDs are very loving to members of their family, they can be quite aloof and suspicious when it comes to strangers.
Whilst this may appeal to you as a watchdog, remember that a dog cannot distinguish between a welcome friend and a trespasser. If your dog lives with your family, you will want him to be friendly and confident around anyone that he doesn’t know.
German Shepherds can show signs of misplaced protectiveness to their families too if not properly exposed to social interactions.
How do you socialise a German Shepherd?
Proper socialisation is vital for your young German Shepherd puppy. Because of his strong guarding instincts, he will quickly become wary of strangers both in the home and outdoors.
The best way to reduce this and teach him to welcome your friends when they visit, is to really dedicate yourself to his socialisation when he comes home.
Give him a week to settle in, and then start getting the visitors around. Make sure you see a range of different people, of both genders, from the very young to the very old.
Although he won’t yet be vaccinated, take him in your arms to a variety of places that you will want him to be comfortable with as he grows. The pet shop, the bus station, the railway, busy town centres. These are all great places to really flood him with a sea of new faces, sights and sounds.
Make people coming and going an entirely normal experience for him at this point, and he will be far less cautious as he ages.
Once he has had his second jabs at around 12 weeks old, you will be able to take him out on foot to all of these same areas to experience them from the ground too. Check out these 12 great places to socialise your puppy if you are looking for some ideas.
This might seem like a lot of effort for a few weeks, but it will be more than worth your while.
An under socialised German Shepherd won’t make a better guard dog, he will simply have a greater potential to be nervous, miserable and even dangerous. A well socialised puppy and adolescent will grow into a friendly, safe and fun pet and canine citizen.
Do German Shepherds like children?
A well socialised German Shepherd can live very happily alongside children. They do not tend to be overly pushy like some breeds, although as a large dog there is a risk of them accidentally knocking over smaller or more vulnerable members of the family. Especially when they are young and have less manners and more bounce.
The potential risks without very thorough socialisation however will be more towards visiting child friends of your own kids than to members of their own family.
As with any dog, it is important to make sure your children understand when to give your GSD space. Make sure that they both have somewhere they can retreat too when needed, and that your children never disturb your dog when he is in his crate, bed or whilst he is eating.
Never leave a young child alone, unsupervised with a dog, however reliable you believe them to be. Remember, even the best behaved kids are unpredictable and even the nicest dog can misread their signals on occasions. Be doubly cautious with your kids’ friends, and make the guidelines for behaviour around the dog a priority for older kids and teens.
Can you combine a German Shepherd with full time work?
GSDs form deep attachments to their carers, and are best housed indoors and amongst their family. Although they are confident dogs, they do need plenty of human companionship.
Left alone all day every week they will become miserable, and potentially noisy and destructive in the house.
If you work full time then you will at the minimum need to employ a dog walker to come over at least twice during the working day, as just being let out once will probably not be enough to keep them entertained.
German Shepherd Exercise
German Shepherds are active, intelligent dogs who need plenty of stimulation. Both physical and mental.
They will need either a couple of hour long walks each day, or a shorter amount of time with much higher paced exercise. For example running, agility, complex retrieving or swimming.
German Shepherd Training
At The Happy Puppy Site we firmly endorse modern, positive training methods. These are even more beneficial when working with a breed pre-disposed to guarding, who needs to learn by experience that training with his human friends is a fun and enjoyable, rewarding experience – not something to be feared or resented.
Training is an important part of German Shepherd ownership as they are big dogs, who can potentially get themselves into trouble if they are left to their own devices.
Your puppy will need to learn not to knock people over, to walk on a loose lead and
German Shepherd Activities
German Shepherds are fit, active and intelligent dogs. This means that there are a wealth of fun activities that you and your puppy will be able to take part in as he grows.
Agility is great for exercising the body and allowing the dog to work co-operatively with you. Pastoral work can be harder to find, but works well with the GSDs natural instincts.
Scentwork, such as search and rescue, can be very rewarding for you both and is rapidly rising in popularity for fun as well as working purposes.
What kind of home can a German Shepherd live in?
German Shepherds are best suited to larger homes with gardens. They do not do well with apartment living, as they need plenty of space to stretch their legs and access to the outdoors.
They make fantastically loyal pets to active adults and families with older children. Requiring as they do a fair amount of your attention by way of training and exercise.
Once you are happy that a German Shepherd puppy is the right choice for your family, you need to learn all about the potential health issues that could impact your pup as he grows and how best to avoid them.
German Shepherd Health
The German Shepherd is prone to some nasty health conditions, which you will need to be aware of when choosing a breeder for your puppy.
Genetic Diseases in German Shepherds
Some of these are those which affect many larger dog breeds, such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Make sure your puppy’s parents have better than average hip scores and elbow scores to reduce the risks of your pup suffering from these joint problems.
Another issue which can affect a German Shepherd dog’s joints is osteochondritis dissecans (OCD). This is caused by an abnormal growth in the cartilage of the dog’s joints. To avoid OCD in your pup as he grows, make sure you find a breeder who has deliberately mated lines without the tendency to develop this problem. You can find out more about OCD in GSDs at this useful website.
GSDs are also known to potentially be affected by degenerative myelopathy, a spinal cord disease which stops the dog from using his back legs and can result in the dog being euthanised.
Haemophilia and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, where the pancreas fails to produce the enzymes which digest food, are other diseases you will need to be aware of.
They can also suffer from bloat and von Willibrands disease.
Some of these are disorders which health testing can help you to avoid to an extent, or completely. Others such as bloat you will simply need to be aware of and manage to reduce the risk.
However, the main issue that we need to focus on with German Shepherds is regarding their conformation. Primarily to do with their backs.
German Shepherd Back Problems
The appearance of the German Shepherds that we see today in the show ring, is very different from that which was around in the 1950s.
Compare the two German Shepherds shown in this picture.
You can see the distinct difference in their top line.
The first is almost level, the second is at a rather steep angle.
How uncomfortable this roached back and angled legs is for the dog is debatable.
How do you find a healthy German Shepherd puppy?
The best way to find a healthy German Shepherd puppy is to be careful when selecting their parents. Go to a breeder who has a health tested bitch, who has been put to a health tested stud dog. Make sure that you see photos of them both before you even visit the litter, to ensure that you are happy with the conformation of each of them. Remember, if the parent has a banana back then the puppy is likely too as well.
German Shepherds bred for an active purpose like agility or police work are more likely to have a level back as they need to be physically capable of carrying out these tasks. However, working line dogs might not have temperaments suitable for a family home.
German Shepherd Lifespan
On average a healthy German Shepherd will have a lifespan of over 10 years, and maybe up to 15 if you are lucky.
Is a German Shepherd right for me?
When you are deciding whether to bring a German Shepherd puppy home there are a lot of factors to consider.
Make sure that you are confident that you have the time and resources to devote to your new family member.
Are you confident that you can commit to spending large amounts of time on early socialisation and training with your new puppy for the next few months.
Will you for the next 10 to 15 years definitely have time to give the dog the exercise and stimulation he needs every day?
Have you found some local positive reinforcement training classes to take him to, puppy socialisation classes to begin with and are you happy to learn to become the dog trainer you will need to be to keep him happy?
Are you home during the day, or can you afford the cost of a good doggy day care whilst you are out at work?
Are you committed to paying monthly food bills, pet insurance, training classes and more costs besides?
Are your family all ready to have a big and bouncy new family member charge into their lives?
Don’t worry if you feel you can’t give these things right now, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to in the future. Why not check out our Breeds section and see whether another breed might be better suited to you at this point in your life?
If you are confident in all of your answers to the above, then get ready for some serious fun! Choose your puppy carefully, pick only the best, health tested and bred to be well conformed puppy you can find. Make sure you meet both of your puppy’s parents before you commit to bringing him home. They should be relaxed in your presence, and have madly wagging tails shortly after your arrival.
Finding the right puppy is important. It will be worth the extra effort and initial outlay, and you will hopefully have a loving, loyal, intelligent and fun companion to share your life with for years to come.